Studio Composer Frank DeVol Dies
Frank DeVol did not invent the microwave oven. He did not climb the world’s tallest mountain. Nor did he write a computer program that people cannot live without. He did more.
DeVol wrote theme songs, winsome, bouncing, haunting ditties for television and the movies that invaded Americans’ psyches and lodged there--like it or not--for years.
Here’s the story of a lovely lady
Who was bringing up three very lovely girls . . .
DeVol wrote the music for those lyrics that have burrowed into pop culture history as the theme song for “The Brady Bunch,” the kitschy 1970s sitcom enjoying perpetual life in rerun heaven.
One of Hollywood’s most popular musical arranger-composer-conductors, DeVol died Wednesday at age 88 in a nursing home in Lafayette, Calif.
His compositions include classic TV themes for “My Three Sons” and “Family Affair,” as well as songs for such movies as “Pillow Talk,” “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?”, “Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte,” “The Dirty Dozen” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”
He began to write music for TV and film after a successful career in radio during the big band era, when he also arranged and conducted recording sessions for such stars as Doris Day, Tony Bennett, Jaye P. Morgan and Ella Fitzgerald.
During his seven-decade career, he received five Academy Award and five Emmy nominations. The latter included a nomination for the “Brady Bunch” song, which never failed to elicit the most rousing reaction whenever he mentioned or played his compositions.
“People gave him tremendous ovations when they found out what he did,” said Bob Weiss, DeVol’s former publicist and longtime family friend. “They’d say, ‘Oh, you’re ‘The Brady Bunch,’ you’re ‘My Three Sons.’ ”
DeVol was born in Moundsville, W.Va., but was raised in Canton, Ohio, where his father was bandleader for the local vaudeville theater. DeVol joined the musicians union when he was 14 and played violin and piano for his father’s band. Saving his earnings from $35-a-week appearances at a Chinese restaurant in Cleveland, he bought a saxophone next, learning to play it by watching other musicians.
By the late 1930s, he was playing and arranging for the Horace Heidt orchestra. When guitarist Alvino Rey left that band, DeVol began to arrange for him.
By the early 1940s, DeVol was living in California and working the graveyard shift for Lockheed when he received a phone call from KHJ, then a Mutual Network radio station, inviting him to be the bandleader for a musical program. Before long, he was musical director for a host of radio personalities, including Ginny Simms, Rudi Vallee, Jack Smith, Dinah Shore and Jack Carson. That led to DeVol reading parts in comedies and becoming a radio personality himself.
Decades later, he married another figure from the big band era, vocalist Helen O’Connell. That marriage occurred in 1991, after the death of DeVol’s first wife, Grayce. O’Connell died in 1993.
DeVol’s break into movies and television came in 1954, when a friend got him a job on a low-budget Robert Aldrich film called “World for Ransom.” The entire music budget was only $3,500, but DeVol took it because “I never turn anything down,” he said. That movie earned him his first Oscar nomination and established him as a Hollywood composer. He wrote music for 16 Aldrich movies alone, including the 1967 box office hit “The Dirty Dozen.”
By the early 1960s, DeVol had movie composing down to a science. “I make a chart,” he told The Times in 1965. “If I’m scoring a picture and I know I’ve got to write 85 minutes of music and I’ve got 15 days to do it, that means I’ve got to produce five to six minutes of music a day. This way I don’t dawdle along.”
All together, DeVol wrote music for 47 movies and seven television series.
He also acted, making appearances on the Jack Benny television show, the original “Parent Trap” movie and “Fernwood 2-Night,” the 1977 sitcom about a talk show on which DeVol played a studio orchestra leader who ran a dental office on the side.
Overshadowing all those accomplishments over a seven-decade career, however, was that 21-line song about a “lovely lady” and “a man named Brady” whose notes DeVol wrote in a day.
Although never a ratings hit, “The Brady Bunch” has provided much grist for analysis in the pop culture mill. Its depiction of a family happily solving mundane disputes over who does the dishes or gets to use the phone was so far removed from Vietnam era woes that it generated a camp following.
Whenever DeVol, who was popular on the cruise circuit in his later years, spoke of his work to audiences, he found it was always the “Brady Bunch” tune that stirred them most.
“When I mention ‘Brady Bunch,’ ” he said a few years ago, “that’s when the audience really applauds.”
DeVol, a longtime resident of Toluca Lake before moving to San Juan Capistrano and Laguna Hills, is survived by two daughters, Linda Morehouse of Lafayette and Donna Copeland of Denver, and two grandsons.
A memorial service will be held Tuesday at 11 a.m. at Forest Lawn Memorial-Park in Hollywood Hills. Donations may be sent to the Musicians Relief Fund, 817 N. Vine St., Hollywood CA 90038.